Monday, November 17, 2008

Feds Can Locate Cell Phones Without Telcos

Slashdot flags on Ars Technica report about the release of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act suggesting that "triggerfish" technology can be used to pinpoint cell phones without involving the cell phone providers at all. Triggerfish are cell-tower spoofing devices that can trick cell phones into giving up their location and other identifying information without notifying the carrier or the user. This may be significant because the legal rulings requiring law enforcement to meet a high "probable cause" standard before acquiring cell location records have so far pertained to requests for information from providers.

The Justice Department's electronic surveillance manual explicitly suggests that triggerfish may be used to avoid restrictions in statutes like CALEA (Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act) that bar the use of pen register or trap-and-trace devices...

It is therefore somewhat surprising that it is only with the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001 that the government has needed any kind of court order to use triggerfish. Although previously the statutory language governing pen register and trap-and-trace orders did not appear to include location tracking technology, the updated definition explicitly includes any "device or process which records or decodes dialing, routing, addressing, and signaling information."

See full story in Ars Technica.